CarbonTIME Human Energy Systems Unit

Contributor
BSCS Hannah K. Miller, Christa Haverly, Marcos Gonzales, Wendy Johnson, Allison Freed, Jenny Dauer, Beth Covitt, and Charles W. (Andy) Anderson
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Types
Unit
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Human Energy Systems is one of six units in the Carbon: Transformations in Matter and Energy (Carbon TIME) curriculum, which was developed through an NSF-funded research collaboration focused on learning progressions to support environmental literacy.  These units were developed for middle and high school students.  The units (http://carbontime.bscs.org/units) are designed in three groups; each group increases in scale from the previous one.   Students should first complete the foundational unit, Systems & Scale, and then at least one of the three units at the organism level.  They may then complete the Ecosystems unit before moving into the culminating Human Energy Systems unit.  Each large-scale unit focuses on three questions: (1) Where are the carbon pools in the environment? (2) How are carbon atoms cycling among pools? and (3) What is happening to energy?   In the Human Energy Systems unit, students investigate a series of phenomena focused on global carbon cycling and climate change.  The highly guided sequence of six lessons helps students interpret large-scale datasets, trace global movements of matter and energy, and explain the consequences of human choices for changes in atmospheric CO2.  Extensive supporting information is provided within each lesson and on the resources page (http://carbontime.bscs.org/resources). The assessment site (http://ibis.colostate.edu/MSP/CTIME/Index.php) includes pre/posttests for each unit and for the overall curriculum.  The overview provided here (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/unit_synopses.pdf) provides a helpful orientation to this complex resource.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Lessons 5 and 6 engage students in considering various lifestyle choices that affect CO2 emissions. In lesson 6, students use a simple interactive climate model to consider impacts of various scenarios and to develop a strategy for limiting climate change. This unit focuses on broad environmental impacts, rather than effects on biodiversity in specific ecosystems. Moving into a series of learning activities in which students investigate the effects of climate change on specific ecosystems would be a good follow-up to this unit. While students do have the opportunity to develop a plan to reduce climate change and to use the climate model to test and refine that strategy, this is a small part of the larger activity. Teachers might want to strengthen this portion of the lesson by making the guidelines for developing this plan more formal and more directly incorporating aspects of engineering design, as summarized in this NSTA article (http://learningcenter.nsta.org/resource/?id=10.2505/4/tst17_084_05_25).

HS-LS2-5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.

Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include simulations and mathematical models.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the specific chemical steps of photosynthesis and respiration.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students build toward this performance expectation, beginning in lesson 1 where they explore trends in Arctic sea ice data. Lessons 2 and 3 connect sea ice trends to atmospheric CO2 levels, global temperature, and sea level. Lesson 4 introduces the concepts of carbon pools and fluxes, which students then use to model the role of photosynthesis, respiration, and combustion in cycling of carbon among the atmosphere, soil, biomass, and fossil fuels. Teachers could supplement the unit and help students make the connection to the oceans as a carbon pool by incorporating Learner.org’s Carbon Lab (http://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=514).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Lesson 5 introduces students to specific strategies that can reduce carbon emissions, and then lesson 6 ask students to develop a broader strategy that they can test with UCAR’s simple online climate model (http://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=142). The implied criterion is to reduce global warming, and lifestyle, economic, social trade-offs are considered within class activities and discussions. The process of developing, evaluating, and refining students’ strategies, though, could be made more formal in order to more fully engage students in this practice. Teachers might modify the guidelines for developing a strategy to explicitly prompt students to identify and prioritize criteria and to address tradeoffs and challenges to implementation. UCAR’s educator guide for the model (see part 2 here: https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/very-very-simple-climate-model-activity) provides some guidance for helping students develop possible scenarios to evaluate.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In lessons 3 and 4, students use two different templates to develop models based on evidence presented in the unit. First, students develop a simple causal model that connect sea ice extent, global temperature, sea level, and atmospheric CO2. Then, students use a template showing global carbon pools to model various processes that affect the global carbon cycle, for example the seasonal fluctuations seen in the Keeling Curve. The carbon pools template does not include the oceans, so it will be important for teachers to discuss this limitation in the model.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Lessons 1 and 2 engage students in analyzing short- and long-term trends in data for sea ice extent, global temperature, sea level, and atmospheric CO2. The lessons introduce students to a data analysis model (transforming the data to 5-year averages) that allows students to focus on long-term trends while reducing the prominence of short-term variation. This approach has important benefits that are highlighted in the lessons, but teachers should also prompt students to think about limitations that should be considered when data is transformed or summarized.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The unit, particularly lessons 5 and 6, does highlight the role of human lifestyle choices in carbon emissions, but the unit could be strengthened in terms of directly addressing constraints and trade-offs in seeking solutions. The unit emphasizes personal choices over social and political actions, and teachers may want to expand on these larger-scale decisions.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The unit focuses more on human activities as a cause for climate change than on the specific effects of climate change. To fully address this core idea, teachers will need to supplement this unit with learning activities that help student develop an understanding of specific effects that climate change, and other anthropogenic changes, can have on species and ecosystems.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The unit focuses on the roles of photosynthesis, respiration, and fossil fuels combustion in cycling carbon among biomass, soil, fossil fuels, and the atmosphere. The role and effects of the oceans as a carbon sink are not considered. Teachers might want to extend or supplement the unit by incorporating learning activities that make this connection.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Lessons 4 and 5 incorporate “The Three Questions,” which help students analyze the role of matter and energy in carbon cycling and climate change. These questions are presented in detail in this handout (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/hes/handouts/Three_Questions_Large_Scale_Handout.pdf). Teachers can use the handout to support students by consistently referring to and pressing for evidence-based answers to these three questions: (1) Where are the carbon pools in our environment?, (2) How are carbon atoms cycling among the pools?, and (3) What is happening to energy?

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students use models to understand connections among Earth systems (atmosphere, temperature, sea ice, and sea level) and among carbon pools (atmosphere, soil, fossil fuels, and biomass). Teachers can support development of this crosscutting concept by asking questions that focus student thinking on connections and flow of matter and energy between and within systems (e.g., How is matter/energy moving from X to Y? What are the causes and effects of this movement?).

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Lessons 1-3 place a heavy emphasis on patterns in data from various Earth systems, and students are guided to examine these patterns on short- and long-term time scales. By comparing across these time scales, students are able to differentiate between short-term random variation and long-term directional patterns in some the sea level, sea ice, and temperature data sets. This comparison also allows students to identify and explain the seasonal pattern in atmospheric CO2 concentrations exhibited in the Keeling Curve. The lesson flow and suggested prompts are well designed to guide students through this process, and teachers should follow this design thoughtfully.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The Carbon TIME units are explicitly designed for the NGSS, and the authors provide a unit-level map linking all units to specific performance expectations (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/ngss_mapping.pdf). Teachers can check the NGSS alignment of specific lessons by clicking on the lesson title within a particular unit. Each unit follows a well-developed, research-based instructional model (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/Carbon_TIME_Instructional_Model_8.11.16.pdf) that leads students to investigate, model, and explain phenomena related to the transformation of matter and energy in various carbon-transforming processes. Students engage in multiple science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts. Some content is delivered through direct instruction supported by discussion, but this information is provided within the context of students developing explanations for phenomena. The instructional model mentioned above provides coherence within the unit, and the full collection of Carbon TIME units were developed in a coherent fashion, as described in the FAQ file (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/Which_Units_Should_I_Teach_FAQ_1.19.16.pdf).

  • Instructional Supports: This unit is anchored by data on Arctic sea ice extent, atmospheric CO2, global temperature, and sea level. Teachers could improve the relevance and authenticity of the unit by connecting these global phenomena to locally important phenomenon, such as predicted effects of sea level rise on coastal communities or predicted effects of warming on agriculture. Carbon TIME units are built around a discourse routine (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/Carbon_TIME_Discourse_Routine.pdf) that allows students to express and refine their ideas based on evidence and feedback. Each lesson includes specific talk and writing goals for students, with teacher talk strategies to support these goals. The accuracy and appropriateness of information in this unit is supported by the fact that the Carbon TIME units are based on learning progression research. Information about the learning progression (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/abt201577402_Feature_Article_Parker_.pdf) and grade-appropriate content simplifications (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/Carbon_TIME_Simplifications.pdf) are provided in supporting materials. Each unit includes three instructional pathways that call for explanations and performances below, on, or above grade level for high school students (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/Turtles_07.05.16-1.pdf). Each lesson also includes suggestions for extending student learning. Student thinking is highly scaffolded early in each unit, and then this scaffolding is gradually removed as the unit concludes and students construct their own explanations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Process tools used throughout the units, such as the Finding Patterns Tool for Earth Systems (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/hes/worksheets_assessments/2.1_Finding_Patterns_Tool_for_Earth_Systems.pdf), scaffold student thinking and provide direct evidence of three dimensional learning. Keys for these tools and assessment guidance are provided for each lesson, allowing the teacher to use these as embedded formative assessments to guide student learning. Assessment items were developed to be accessible to all levels of students, and the pre-/post-assessments were validated (http://media.bscs.org/carbontime/files/CarbonTIMEAssessmentValidation.pdf) with a sample of students that was diverse in terms of geography, grade level, and academic level. However, potential cultural bias of assessments is not addressed in supporting materials. All pre-/post-tests include assessment guidelines. Pre-/post-tests are available through the “Assessment Site” link on the Carbon TIME home page. Assessment links within units appear to require special permission to gain access.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This unit is not technology-based.